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Opinion: Small Is Beautiful – And More Efficient

Opinion: Small is Beautiful – and More Efficient

ALLi's blog editor Debbie Young pays tribute to one of the less usually discussed advantages of being an indie author: their speed of respond to requests from journalists.

Photo of a small rowing boat

Indie authors – small but easy to manoeuvre and quick to respond

In idle moments (ha!) one of the many things I do besides edit this blog and write handbooks for ALLi is to write book reviews.

I do this partly because I'm an author myself and like the idea of being able to make an author's day by posting a new review for their work. (I confess I'm of the “Thumpa” school of book reviewing, where if I think a book is terrible, I won't publish the review.)

I also think it helps me improve my own writing if I'm constantly searching for what other authors do well.

What started as an enjoyable and improving hobby is turning into more of a professional occupation, as I now review books for various publications, such as the fab Vine Leaves Literary Journal, founded by ALLi professional member Jessica Bell, and for three different organisations. (I'm being deliberately mysterious here to preserve the anonymity of my reviews!)

Building Links with Indie Bookshops

One of the journals that I review for is a parenting magazine, focusing on children's books. It's a great gig because each issue I get to choose a theme for the double-page book feature and to write about whichever books I fancy reviewing. The proprietor of a nearby indie bookshop is happy to point me in the right direction if I'm short of inspiration, which gives me another opportunity to bond with a bricks-and-mortar bookstore – useful for any indie author.

Photo of a huge cruise ship

Big publishing companies: slow to stop, start or do just about anything

Part of my brief for the Today's Child feature is to secure high-resolution print quality images of the covers of any books that I'm reviewing, so that they can be used as illustrations. You may think that this should not be a difficult task. Surely publishers ought to make it easy for a journalist to secure an image. After all, in return they're getting free publicity for their book. One would assume that there might be a media centre somewhere on their website with a searchable database from which one could find and download a jpeg at the required resolution – low for web use, high for print.

Doing Battle with Big Publishing Houses

My experience tells me differently. Often it takes me longer to secure half a dozen book cover images than it does to write the entire article. Why? Because of the way that the big publishing houses operate.

This is the typical experience:

  • find the publisher's website
  • navigate the website – often a mesh of different sites for different countries, and you only realise you're on the US one when the prices come up in $
  • seek out the media contacts page and find there isn't one – or that it's built to repel viewers (e.g. one required a Captcha code before it would let me view phone numbers)
  • go to the children's section and find there are no contacts listed
  • go to the contacts page and find it's reader-oriented
  • despair and make a cup of tea
  • resort to phoning the main number for the head office
  • give a very clear indication of what I need
  • get put through to an extension that goes straight to answerphone
  • phone the main number again and ask for an alternative person who is physically there and also suitable email addresses
  • get another answerphone (repeat until my patience evaporates)
  • try emailing
  • wait a few days before chasing
  • a week after chasing, receive an apologetic email and a low-resolution image unsuitable for print

And so on. You get the picture. And I get through an awful lot of tea.

Which drives me to distraction – until I'm seeking an image from either a small indie press or a self-published author, which yields a much more satisfying response. I always get a prompt, friendly and courteous reply, with the image or even a choice of images and other ideas (e.g. internal spreads of the book) and the offer of further help, plus effusive thanks for helping them to spread the word about their books.

The Joy of Indie Authors

I'm reminded of the different stopping distances allowed between a cruise ship and a rowing boat – the publishing empire against the indie.

Photo of an elephant

Spot the mouse

While often we indie authors are made to feel tiny and inconsequential next to the big trade publishers, if we're smart, we can also use our small size to our advantage. With media requests like this, busy journalists (or last-minute merchants like me – I confess!) will usually use the pictures from the first responders, lacking time, patience, will power and telephone budget to wait for the giants to deign to reply.

As indie authors, we may be tiny, but we can be quick and responsive. We are the mouse to the big publishers' elephants. It's just a shame that we're not as easy to spot.

EASY TWEET “#Authors – here's one advantage of being indie not often discussed: response time https://selfpublishingadvice.org/small/ by @DebbieYoungBN for @IndieAuthorALLi”



This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. You’re so right, Debbie. In my “serious day job”, I write books which have a legal angle to them (guides to anti-money laundering, since you ask). And when the legislation changes (my books have editions covering five different jurisdictions, so changes are fairly frequent), I can simply update the PDF, upload it to CreateSpace, and the latest versions are ready to sell. I think self-published – and in particular print-on-demand self-publishing – is the ideal route for anything that might need frequent updates, such as books on legal and medical matters. It means that you don’t take ages to get changes through a publishing house review committee, and there aren’t piles of old stock lying around.

    1. That’s a very good point, Susan, about books that need frequent updating. Such books must often be out of date by the time they’re published, if they have to go through traditional trade published routes!

  2. This is very interesting indeed. I have to say from my side of things that I’m pretty sure a publisher wouldn’t have been able to decide to change my book title (with my blessing!), have the cover redesigned and re-issue it with the new title and cover within a few days, whereas working independently I was certainly able to do that!

  3. Perfectly put, Mick, thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed response. It makes me feel better that you report the same experience. Their loss is indies’ gain!

  4. Debbie,

    I experience the same issues with big publishers. Their websites are front and corporate focused – TRADE INQUIRES, and the CONTACT US slush pile. Most of them don’t comprehend direct contact or why a reader or individual would be bothering them. It’s a reflection of where publishing is now. I’m sorry – we only take enquiries from the trade and partners and those who have the direct numbers of our staff.

    The publishing industry gave away a hell of a lot in the 1970s and 1980s. More than they are willing to accept. Now, the tide has turned, and they realise retailers and distributors are not their best buddies in the world, they are struggling to turn the big ship.

    Technology and communication is now immediate. But that doesn’t sit well with a publisher who wants to be indisposed, removed, and connected all at the same time.

    Pick up the phone to your local independent bookstore, or a local small press, or an indie author – you won’t be able to get off the phone.

    The indie community understand the value of respectful connection. The rest can’t come to terms with it, don’t want to, or simply don’t have the system and channels to deal with it.

    We’ve come full circle in many ways. Social media and the power of immediate connection has simply exposed those who want to hold and have and hide in the woods.

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